Life-saving Yemeni group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

Press Releases, 13 September 2011

GENEVA, 13 September, 2011 The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today announced that the winner of this year's Nansen Refugee Award is the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) of Yemen. The US$100,000 Award recognizes the 290 staff of SHS, and its founder, Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy, for their "dedicated service to providing life-saving assistance to thousands of refugees and migrants who arrive on the shores of Yemen every year" after crossing the Gulf of Aden by boat.

Desperate to escape violence, drought and poverty in the Horn of Africa, thousands of refugees and migrants put their lives in the hands of human smugglers and cross the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in crowded and often unseaworthy boats. Some of those who take this perilous journey are beaten or abused, arriving traumatized and ill on the Yemeni coast. SHS staff monitor about a third of Yemen's 2,000 kilometre-long coastline, picking up survivors, providing emergency care and, all too often, burying those who die en route.

Some 60,000 people have made sea crossings to Yemen so far in 2011 higher than the total for all of 2010. It is estimated that at least 120 people have drowned trying to make the journey.

"Thousands of refugees owe their survival to the people working for the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres about the winner. "Their complete dedication to the service of mankind deserves this global recognition and support."

SHS founder Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy said, "Winning the Nansen Award has given us a big boost. Our work is a humanitarian duty… that has to be done under any circumstance." He added that he would use the Nansen platform to call on the international community to "intensify efforts to improve the situation in Somalia to help dissuade people from attempting the risky crossing."

The Nansen Refugee Award was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian explorer, scientist and the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. The Award consists of a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 monetary prize donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway. The winner can donate the money to a cause of his or her choice. The Nansen Award ceremony will take place on 3 October in Geneva.

Photographs and video footage of SHS in action are available for media use.

All media materials are available here:

Note to Editors:

The Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony will take place on Monday, 3 October 2011 in Geneva, Switzerland. Hosted by British former journalist and politician Martin Bell, OBE, this year's laureate will be honoured by performances by Colombian musician and humanitarian Juanes and Norwegian singer Sivert Høyem.

Content from the ceremony is available for TV broadcast. Interested broadcasters should contact Susannah Lovatt, E-mail Lovatt.



The Nansen Refugee Award

The Nansen Refugee Award

Given to individuals or organizations for outstanding service in the cause of refugees.

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2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency's Nansen Awards Committee has named Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, as the winner of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award. The Committee was impressed by the political and civic courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta.

Dr. Camilleri first became aware of the plight of refugees as a 16-year-old girl when a priest visited her school to talk about his work. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm where she came into contact with refugees. As Dr. Camilleri's interest grew in this humanitarian field, she started to work with the JRS office in Malta in 1997.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate attacks. And this April, arsonists set fire to both Dr. Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family. The perpetrators were never caught but the attacks shocked Maltese society and drew condemnation from the Government of Malta. Dr. Camilleri continues to lead the JRS Malta legal team as Assistant Director.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

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